In this last installment of this series, we will look at the final two sacraments, which are Holy Orders and Matrimony. The Catechism refers to these two as the Sacraments at the Service of Communion. They are vocational sacraments, which are ordered not only to the salvation of the one receiving the sacrament, but are also ordered toward the salvation of others, building up the Kingdom of God (CCC #1533-1534). It is by the grace of your vocational sacrament that you are able to evangelize others with Jesus’ message, be a witness of authentic Christian love, and offer your suffering for those whom you serve within your vocation.
Holy Orders, the sacrament by which one is called to enter the priesthood, allows a man to carry on the mission of the Church as a successor of the Apostles (CCC #1536). It is an act of consecration wherein a man sets himself apart for Christ (CCC #1538). The priesthood began in the Old Testament when God selected the tribe of Levi and set it apart for the priesthood to offer gifts and sacrifices to God on behalf of the other 11 tribes of Israel (CCC #1539). When Jesus came as the true high priest to act as mediator between God and man, to make the one perfect sacrifice for the reparation of sins, and to offer a path to salvation, He changed how the priesthood would serve the people. “Only Christ is the true priest, the others [the Apostles and their successors] being only His ministers” (St. Thomas Aquinas, CCC #1545). So, priests are now earthly participants “each in [their] own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ” (CCC #1547). It is through the earthly priesthood by which Jesus’ salvific grace can be conferred to His people through the physical aspects of the other sacraments. The priest acts in persona Christi Capitis – in the person of Christ – enabling him with the authority to do things such as forgive sins in Confession or consecrate the Eucharist (CCC #1548).
As with all sacraments, the divine grace is conferred by human and earthly things. In the case of Holy Orders, along with other traditional aspects of liturgy, it is the physical imposition of the bishop’s hands as he prays “a specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and His gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained” (CCC #1573).
There are two primary effects of the Sacrament of Holy orders. The first, that by virtue of his priesthood, the priest receives an indelible character which “configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for His Church” (CCC #1581). It is important to note that priests are still human and sinners and as such they can be discharged from their priestly functions for serious reasons. However, because they receive this indelible mark by God Himself and it is permanent, they cannot go back to becoming a layman in the strict sense of the word after such a discharge (CCC #1583). The second effect of Holy Orders is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which empowers the priest to act as priest, teacher, and pastor. In other words, it gives him the grace he needs to shepherd his flock, teach the truths of the Faith and of Jesus Christ, and to minister the sacraments to the people (CCC #1585).
Because priests have been specifically called by God to serve Him by building up His Kingdom and to serve us by assisting us on our path of holiness to salvation, it is extremely important for us to pray for our priests always. We must pray that they remain fortified against grave sin, that their ministerial work be always blessed, inspired, and energized by the Holy Spirit, and that they listen to His voice in their vocation. We must also pray for an increase in this vocation and encourage our young ones to explore whether God is calling them to this vocation, with the promise of support from the faithful for whom they choose to bear the cross of the priesthood in service.
The seventh sacrament and second vocational sacrament is that of Matrimony. The Catechism defines Matrimony like this: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (CCC #1601). God is a family of three persons. God also created us in His image and likeness. He invites us to imitate Trinitarian family and He invites us to participate in His creation through procreation with one another. Through the covenant of marriage, both members of that covenant are tasked with leading the other spouse and their children on their path to holiness and salvation. The family becomes the domestic church in which the family is the light of Christ to one another and the world.
In Catholic marriage, the two become one flesh, but of course, the two that come together are both imperfect and sinners. Therefore, the sins of one spouse hurt their joined one flesh and vice versa, whether the particular sin was directed specifically toward the other spouse or not. Thus, marriage is also considered a cross of authentic Christian service in encouraging one another to grow in holiness, to turn from sin, and help each other get to heaven as the one single flesh they are. Of course, there are times in marriage when one spouse is spiritually stronger than the other and there are times it may reverse. Therefore, this covenantal vocation is a constant effort of turning toward one another in the difficulties and keeping God at the center of the marriage at all times (CCC #1606-1608).
The celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony should take place during Holy Mass. The Mass is the re-presentation of the sacrifice the bridegroom (Jesus) made for His bride (the Church) and it is “therefore fitting that the spouses should seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives by uniting it to the offering of Christ for his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice…” (CCC #1621). This sacrament is also the only one where the two parties confer the sacrament to one another as they speak the formulaic words that give their promises to one another before witnesses and before God (CCC #1623).
There are two effects of Matrimony. The first is the marriage bond, which was established by God himself and therefore ensures the divine bond can never be dissolved (CCC #1641). The second effect is the grace of the sacrament of Matrimony. This grace strengthens their love for one another, and also enables them to each use their own unique, individual, divinely given gifts to build up the holiness of the marriage. Since Christ is the source of the grace, He dwells within the covenantal marriage (CCC #1641-1642).
It is likely that most of you reading this have already chosen and been living the sacramental life to which you have been called by God. Some of you have not yet discerned what God wants for your sacramental life. If you have already received one of these sacraments, ask God to show you how you can deepen your faith and take one step further in spiritual growth through your vocation. How can you use your vocation to help others grow in holiness? If you have not yet chosen your particular path to holiness, continue to pray and ask God to reveal His will for your life. And, as always, pray for our young ones to hear God’s voice as they discern what they are called to do in service to God and others.
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